BY: KRISTINE BEREY
When we think of fitness, running, jogging, and pushups, strain, sweat and struggle come to mind.
But being fit can mean being fluid and pain-free rather than strong and muscular, as ancient disciplines like yoga and tai chi have shown. There are more recent paths as well, such as the Alexander Method or Feldenkrais’s Awareness Through Movement approach, which are gentle and call upon the mind and the body equally.
Philippe Leblond, a Montrealer trained by Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), has been teaching people how to move with more ease and less pain for more than 30 years.
He says a Feldenkrais practitioner is more like a tour guide than a teacher, helping the student discover how his body works and to rediscover movements he may not have experienced since childhood.
“Feldenkrais essentially deals with habits we acquire throughout our life that eventually become counter-productive, especially as our body changes,” Leblond, a former engineer, says.
“People’s habits are a tight envelope they live in and as things change, it doesn’t work. One thing most disciplines do not deal with are everyday movements and if there is one principle, it is to introduce the most amount of variety in how people do things.” Leblond doesn’t aim to correct but to improve what a student has to work with.
“Whatever your build, improving what you’ve got is more effective than change. I am not retraining, I am setting up a context in which a person will discover other ways of functioning, of putting their intentions into action.”
Dr. Steven Weiniger, author of Stand Taller—Live Longer, also uses the envelope metaphor when speaking about his work. A chiropractor and posture specialist, he said posture is the external envelope of your body.
“If you keep your body folded up by sitting, with your hands close in front of you, you shorten the muscles of your chest and they get tighter. Then the body doesn’t work as well.” Unconsciously contracted muscles prevent proper breathing, Weiniger says, which is essential to everything from controlling stress to quality of focus in athletic performance.
“Studies have shown that a forward head posture and reduced height correlate with cardiovascular disease mortality. If you never push your body to be fully open, you lose a little bit of motion over time as you get older, and you are a lot less able to breathe.”
To Weiniger, the concept of posture is dynamic, not a matter of holding oneself the “right” way.
“You can’t think about standing straight—it needs to be a baseline habit. Good posture is balance, alignment and motion and when these are strengthened, people feel a difference in the quality of their movements.”
Kit Racette, a Montreal psychotherapist and Alexander technique teacher combines these skills based on the individual needs of the people she sees.
“I am not just working with how they move but how they are in the world,” Racette says.
“For instance, if you are frightened of the world, you will be tense and small. The Alexander technique is a system of re-education.”
F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) was a voice coach and actor. He created his technique while resolving his voice problems and observing his physical limitations.
Feldenkrais’s journey was similar in that he avoided a lifetime in a wheelchair through learning how to move despite a serious knee injury. Though the models are different, both approaches have been used successfully for decades by singers and musicians whose livelihood depends on their bodies and ability to move without effort.
“Both the Feldenkrais method and the Alexander technique have awareness in common,” Racette says, “but Alexander is much more of a mind/body study. It is about using your thoughts to change how you move. If you start to think, you automatically feel or sit differently.”